4.6 Complaint and grievance management

While engagement may seek to achieve consensus, that will not always be achievable. For example, there may be a fundamental divergence of opinion between a company and significant sections of a community on the issue of whether mining should be allowed in an area at all. In other cases, the 'solution' to the conflict may be beyond the direct control of the company (for example, it may require a change of government policy).

A measure of effective engagement might not necessarily be the absence of conflict and disagreement, but rather be the ability of the different parties to maintain a constructive dialogue. Mining companies can facilitate this by being transparent in their actions, engaging with all players, treating them with respect and sharing information openly with them.

Effective procedures for dealing with complaints, disputes and grievances are also important. Some companies have established formalised grievance processes, which can include involving a third party to mediate on a particular issue. Regardless of which model is used, companies should consider how they are going to deal with grievances before issues escalate and make sure that they have appropriate processes in place.

One of the three essential elements of the UNHRC framework is that of remedy—that is, an avenue for negatively affected people to seek redress. Good corporate-community relations and respecting human rights involves ensuring that community members have an avenue for lodging complaints and an accessible and transparent system for resolving them. A minerals operation can ensure that it has a functioning complaints procedure, both for employees and for external parties, easily accessible for men, women and any more vulnerable groups in a community. The 'Further reading' section of this handbook contains several resources on how to establish effective complaints management systems.

The case study below gives an example of how this has been managed at a remote Australian operation.

Rio Tinto Alcan speaks at one of the site's quarterly community forums

Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa General Manager, Operations, Gareth Manderson, speaks at one of the site's quarterly community forums.

Collapsed - Case Study: Weipa bauxite mine, Queensland—Integrating complaints, disputes and grievance resolution into management systems

The context

Rio Tinto Alcan has mined and shipped bauxite from Weipa in Far North Queensland, Australia, since 1963. Weipa employs about 1,000 full-time people and produced 20.6 million dry product tonnes of bauxite in 2011. Local communities surrounding the operation on the Western Cape include the township of Weipa and the three nearby Indigenous communities of Aurukun, Mapoon and Napranum. The original (northern) bauxite reserves are gradually being depleted, and with continued demand for bauxite, the business has identified significant reserves south of the Embley River.

Weipa community feedback system

The site Communities and Social Performance (CSP) team administers the community feedback system—a formalised process whereby members of the local community can provide both positive and negative feedback on the company's operations, including on any adverse human rights impacts. The Weipa community feedback system reflects the six overarching principles for non-judicial grievance processes: legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent and rights-compatible.

To ensure accessibility, multiple contact points are available, including a toll-free phone number and direct contact with Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa personnel. To promote local awareness of the feedback system, the process is advertised in the local newspaper, in site newsletters, on community noticeboards and informally when CSP personnel visit local communities. Feedback is logged by the team following a well-established process. The procedure is also aligned with the Rio Tinto business solution, which provides tools to log incidents, assign follow-up actions and track the closure of issues and incidents. The system enables incidents to be escalated to appropriate management levels based on their significance, and also ensures that all relevant work areas are informed.

Once feedback has been received and logged, the CSP team makes an initial assessment to identify and contact the relevant function. The function leader and CSP superintendent then establish an investigation team, classify the incident, and investigate it to determine the root cause(s) and identify any actions that are needed to address it. Where an incident is classified as 'significant', the CSP manager, the relevant function manager and the general manager are notified. The feedback procedure includes provisions for engagement and dialogue with the affected people. For example, when feedback is first received, the community member is asked about their expectations, including any suggestions they may have about resolution. Across-site participation is also encouraged internally by the CSP team adopting a facilitative role, rather than resolving the issue directly, in isolation from other functions. The requirements for internal reporting, both confidentially at the specific level and generally at the aggregate level, help to communicate incident findings and to share learnings across this site.

A Weipa Community Forum provides opportunities to engage directly with members of local communities on matters of interest and to discuss business activities that are likely to affect the community. The forum also enables the company to report back to the community on how complaints are received and addressed.

Integrating complaints, disputes and grievance resolution into operations and management

The CSP team involves relevant company functions in any complaints resolution to improve across-site accountability and to ensure that function leaders across the operation are also recognised for positive feedback received. This deepens the understanding throughout the business that working with communities is everybody's work and ensures that all business functions engage directly with stakeholders potentially affected by their activities.

Working with local Traditional Owners in Weipa

Working with local Traditional Owners in Weipa.

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